Matthews grew up in the gothic church, not today's church of love.
By GAIL SHISTER
KNIGHT RIDDER NEWSPAPERS
PHILADELPHIA -- For MSNBC anchor Chris Matthews, the death of Pope John Paul II is "a chance for me to connect spiritually with my church."
Matthews, 59, a former altar boy who grew up "in a very Catholic world" in the Northeast, has been in Rome since Saturday, spearheading MSNBC's coverage.
In case you're wondering, Catholicism "is a very good religion to die in," according to Matthews. "You have confidence that you've led your life in a way to prepare yourself for this."
The speed-talking host of "Hardball" says he's a believer. Still, he lives "in the real Catholic world," where feelings about complicated social issues are sharply divided.
"There's no doubt in my mind I believe in my religion," Matthews says. "At the same time, you live in a world of skepticism, and you share in that skepticism. You believe in what you see."
Matthews and his four brothers grew up in a deeply structured Catholic environment. Parochial school (and occasional corporal punishment) during the week, confession on Saturday, church on Sunday. No questions asked.
"In my family, it was perceived as a normal thing in the '40s, '50s and '60s to give up one or two kids to the religious orders and the priesthood," Matthews says. Two of his aunts became nuns.
Back then, "we heard a lot about hell and purgatory. ... You accepted everything. That was the gothic church. Today, it's the church of love."
That church elects its first new pope in 26 years, Matthews says. A total of 117 cardinals will vote, up from about 40 last time, he adds.
"It will be like an Olympics. Everybody will be from different countries, speaking different languages. This will be a brand-new situation. Nothing's locked in. It will be hard to cover."
Way tougher -- and deeper -- than a political convention, he says.
"The election of a politician may affect your tax rate or who's going to war, but in the Roman Catholic Church, especially in this turbulent time, the election of a pope affects your life and your death.
"It matters to people's souls, their lives, the deepest concepts of who they are."
Matthews will remain in Rome through the Pope's funeral Friday.